An intimate perspective into the life of the most visible religious leader in America, as told and authorized by his wife.
Jerry Falwell played a pivotal role in the American religious and political scene for the last thirty years. As a constant voice for the Christian Right, and with his strong affirmations for family values, he remained outspoken about his beliefs and vision for revolutionized morals and social reform, including issues that will greatly affect the upcoming 2008 elections. Readers will be treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the private life of Jerry Falwell, giving insight into his most publicized and controversial events, such as:
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Jesus, Jerry, and Me
It was a warm spring evening in Lynchburg, Virginia. Monday, May 14, 2007. My husband, Jerry Falwell, and I drove across town enjoying how the Blue Ridge Mountains stood in timeless majesty against an azure sky, dressed in verdant green trees. Their branches waved in the gentle breeze like a benediction.
"Would you like to go to O'Charley's for dinner?" Jerry said, the usual twinkle of good humor in his eyes. "It's Monday."
"Oh Jerry, I'd forgotten!"
On Monday nights O'Charley's offered steak soup, a new dish on the menu. I'd longed to try it again, but I seemed to think of it only on Wednesday or Thursday or Saturday. Most people wouldn't expect a man like Jerry Falwell, who had so many major issues on his mind, to remember a little thing like getting his wife a bowl of steak soup. But then, most people didn't know my husband.
The crowd at O'Charley's was light as we slid into a booth. Jerry nodded and waved at some people across the room. We'd never met the young woman who waited on us, but after forty-nine years of marriage, I wasn't surprised by my husband's kindness to her.
"Where do you go to college?" he asked.
"I go to the community college," she said with a shy smile.
"Why aren't you at my university?" Jerry asked. "Liberty University."
"My parents can't afford it," she said, shrugging one shoulder.
"If you'd like to go to Liberty, I'll give you a full scholarship."
Her eyes lit like sparklers on the Fourth of July. "Are you serious?"
Jerry assured her that he was serious, and she floated away in a haze of disbelief. She'd had no idea when she walked up to our booth with her pad in hand that her life was about to change forever. But after almost fifty years of marriage to Jerry, I could have predicted it.
Once, some children had knocked a baseball over the fence into our yard. Before giving the ball back to them, Jerry wrote a message on it promising a scholarship at Liberty, and then he signed it. "Wait!" he yelled, chasing the kids down the street. "I want to add that it's a four-year scholarship." So I smiled at the young waitress who tried to be sedate but almost jumped for joy asshe walked away.
Something else stands out in my mind about that evening. I remember that Jerry ate no more than two or three bites of his food. Instead, he seemed content to gaze across the table, his eyes tracing the familiar features of my face in a most unusual way.
It was almost as though he was seeing me for the first time. Or the last. As soon as the thought formed I pushed it aside. Jerry had looked across the table at me for almost fifty years.
Still...he focused on my face.
I savored my soup, aware of his scrutiny. Young people like our waitress often think those of our generation are trite when we repeat such worn expressions as, "Where did all the years go?" But one day they, like the rest of us, will look up, stunned that fifty years could have been so...brief.
That's why, as Jerry watched emotions flicker across my face, I reflected over our life together, and marveled. It had been quite a ride -- not at all what I'd envisioned when I'd married the skinny young man who founded Thomas Road Baptist Church.
Back then, neither of us had any idea where our journey would take us. I, for one, am glad. Timid as I've always been, it is best that I did not foresee meetings in the White House, traveling around the world, protestors, death threats, bomb threats, and a kidnapping plot. God's plan for our lives is so much bigger than anything we can imagine, and though I would have shied away from it had I known what lay ahead, I'm so grateful I did not miss it.
Neither Jerry nor I imagined that God was forging us into instruments He would use to affect thousands of people and the politics of a nation. We were unaware of the tapestry He'd been weaving all along. We just thought we were living our lives.
That's the way God works, but we didn't know that then.
I don't think what makes our story relevant is Jerry or Macel Falwell. We were...how shall I say it?...unlikely candidates. You could search the world and have trouble finding two more opposite people than Jerry and me.
I was a prim and proper lady who'd been raised in the arms of a hardworking, protective Christian family. Jerry used to say that, in my family, failing to pay a tithe was akin to murder. Though it was a bit of an exaggeration, he had a point.
In my home on Christmas morning, no one unwrapped a gift until the Christmas story had been read from the book of Luke. We never listened to any music except Christian music. We did not watch movies, and alcohol was forbidden. I was the youngest of three daughters with a younger brother on whom we doted. I was timid and hesitant about life, a trait that would progress with the years.
Jerry was the son of a bootlegger. His father was an agnostic and his grandfather an avowed atheist. His father shot and killed his own brother in self-defense. He was a shrewd businessman who made a small fortune, while drinking himself to death.
Jerry and his twin brother, Gene, were the youngest of five children in the Falwell family. Their mother, a quiet Christian woman, was a saint in the midst of a rough and rowdy family of Southern rebels.
I spent my younger years committed to Christ and to His church. Jerry had grown up without such commitment. Over the years his mother pressed him to go to church. For a while he accommodated her, but most Sundays Jerry walked in the front door and slipped out the back when no one was looking.
Throughout our marriage I was shy, fearful, and ever certain that none of Jerry's wild ideas would work. Jerry believed that anything was possible through prayer and hard work.
So you see, our story is not relevant because of who we were, for we were polar opposites, ordinary people with ordinary weaknesses, whose lives intersected with Jesus. Our story is relevant only because it reveals what God can do with two ordinary, if unlikely, people who dare to say yes to Him.
The Bible says that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:25). Somehow, Jesus took us -- weak, foolish vessels that we were -- and confounded the wisdom of the world.
Our story is about Jerry, Jesus, and me, and what happened when our lives intersected.
In the Beginning
Jerry continued to gaze at my face while I ate my soup and pondered our differences. Why I was the one who had ended up sharing his life, I'll never know. I wasn't a fearless defender of human rights, after all. I felt ill-suited for life in the limelight. But strange as it might seem, I was the one God and Jerry chose. I guess they saw something in me -- the skittish little girl born on October 4, 1933, to Sam and Lucile Pate -- that I didn't.
What was it? Perhaps in part it was the heritage of faith, love, and integrity that I received from my parents. My father, Sam Pate, had been raised in a Christian home in Alum Creek, West Virginia. Although he was one of the smartest men I've ever known, Daddy completed school only through the third grade. Back in those days, you could teach school if you finished fifth. A lean man with brown hair and warm eyes, he moved to Richmond, Virginia, at the age of eighteen and found work.
A coworker invited him home for the weekend and Daddy met -- and lost his heart to -- a pretty young woman he saw sitting on the front step of the house next door. Her name was Lucile Donald and, of course, she became my mother.
A Supernatural Intersection
I was twelve years old when I gave my heart to Jesus. Six years later, still riding the wave of His love, I was swept into my first encounter with the man who would forever change my life. The stage for our meeting was set when the little Baptist church we attended sent a few families, including ours, to plant a new church -- Park Avenue Baptist. The new church had a cheery wooden sanctuary and two pianos, one on either side of the platform. My friend Delores Clark played one piano and I played the other. We also played for the pastor's early-morning radio broadcast.
During those years, I did not lack for male attention. But my pastor's young brother-in-law, Julius, was the most persistent. A handsome young man, he was pursuing a career as minister of music. Although my parents were very strict about my relationships, my mother adored Julius, and I was flattered when he proposed to me. The truth is that I was more interested in the concept of marriage than in its reality. When Julius slipped an engagement ring on my finger, I knew I wasn't ready to leave my happy family to make one of my own.
I don't want to hurt his feelings, I thought. I can always give it back to him later.
I didn't mind being engaged, but I had no interest in getting married.
One Sunday night in January 1952, wearing my sparkling engagement ring, I dressed for church in a black velveteen dress with white trim. The sanctuary, which held three hundred people, was filled almost to capacity. Delores and I were playing hymns when ushers brought three teenage boys to seats in the front. I noticed that one of them in particular, although skinny, was quite handsome.
His name was Jerry Falwell.
The Man Behind the Media Image
O'Charley's had begun to fill with the evening crowd and I stopped eating my soup long enough to say hello as friends and acquaintances passed by. Still watching my face, Jerry leaned against the padded booth, looking for all the world like he, too, was remembering the first time he saw me back in 1952.
Our waitress brought hot rolls baked a deep golden brown just the way I liked them. As I buttered my bread, I paused to study his face. The thing that still amazed me after all these years was how many of the media portrayals had painted a bizarre public persona of Jerry that most of the world believed to be true. Some said he was a hatemonger, stern, humorless, rigid, a...
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